Religion in America has always had a quirky side — from the Salem witchcraft trials to the Heaven's Gate followers who committed suicide so they could shed their earthly shells and be transported to an alien spaceship trailing the comet Hale-Bopp.
I've been thinking about that sort of stuff during breaks at the Christopher Coleman murder trial in Waterloo. It is a trial infused with quirky religion.
Coleman is the son of an evangelical minister. As a child, he met the televangelist Joyce Meyer. He eventually became her personal security chief. Meyer testified that an affair could have cost Coleman his job. And although divorced herself, Meyer frowns on divorce, at least those that occur after a person is born again.
Coleman was born again when he was only 11. When he began an affair with his wife's best friend in November 2008, he faced the loss of his job if he were to get a divorce. In May 2009, he was charged with killing his wife and two young sons.
It's a small courtroom, and I can easily observe the defendant's family.
They have been remarkably cheerful at times, especially the defendant's father, the Rev. Ronald Coleman. Originally, I thought this cheerfulness was a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit, but as the trial has moved along, I have come to believe that the source of the cheerfulness is beyond my understanding.
After all, the crimes are gruesome, unimaginable. The defendant's wife, Sheri, and their two young sons, 9 and 11, were garroted in their beds. It would seem difficult enough to maintain good cheer when your son is accused of such a crime, but on two separate occasions, a defense attorney has suggested that there are other potential suspects — and he mentioned one of the defendant's brothers.
No evidence has been presented to implicate the brother while a good deal of evidence has been put forward against the defendant, including testimony from a pathologist that the victims had been dead for hours before the defendant went to the gym for an early morning workout shortly before the bodies were discovered.
Of course, the trial is not over and the defendant is still presumed innocent, but even if you overlook the murders, he seems a deeply disturbed individual. For instance, he videotaped himself masturbating in the shower. Maybe an adolescent would make a tape like that, but a grown man? And this was Joyce Meyer's personal security guy.
She testified via videotape. I admire her, but I don't send her money and I don't think of her as a spiritual leader. I think of her as a shrewd businesswoman who knows how to avoid taxes.
Maybe the strangest religious connection came via Tara Lintz, the Other Woman. She came to court wearing a promise ring that the defendant had given her. And a cross.
Bear in mind that the promise ring celebrates an adulterous relationship with the husband of her best friend. Furthermore, it was a relationship that the state alleges led to the murder of three people. You wear that with a cross?
I thought about that during a break and remembered that Jesus counted prostitutes among his friends. So why shouldn't Lintz wear a cross?
I've already mentioned that the defense has suggested that one of the defendant's brothers was capable of committing this crime. (Among other things, he sent Sheri a videotape of a deer being strangled.) That brother has not been in court, but another brother has. He seems decent enough, even friendly, but he was admonished by the judge after a witness accused him of mouthing the words "You're dead" while the witness testified. He denied it.
During a break, I was chatting with a woman who knows the Colemans. She told me the reverend's church has been growing by leaps and bounds. For some reason, that strikes me as odd. No family is perfect, but I'd say the Coleman family has more than its share of problems, and I am not sure I'd want the patriarch of that family as a spiritual guide.
Perhaps he's a fine pastor. I like to think that's why his congregation has grown. I wish them well.
For that matter, I hope there was an alien spacecraft trailing the comet Hale-Bopp. I like to think that things worked out for those people, too.
By the way, in between breaks these last couple of days, the state has produced evidence that threats sent to the family actually came from the defendant's personal computer, and the defendant bought a can of spray paint that matches the paint from the messages on the wall. Also, a detective testified that the brother mentioned by the defense was in Arkansas at the time of the murders.
At the very least, then, it appears the state has charged the right one of the reverend's sons.